Ruling Party Fails to Win Loyalty of Fractious Army

By , Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

MILITARY units are defying orders from Beijing in a blatant sign that China's leaders cannot count on the Army to be a sure defender against popular unrest, military analysts say.

Military units have ignored, altered, and counteracted orders. Some units have recently resisted efforts by Beijing to take control of military factories, official reports say.

"Some units and cadres have ... a weakened concept of organizational discipline, failing to earnestly pursue many things expressly laid down by regulations," the Liberation Army News commented recently. "We must resolutely halt these practices."

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Many military units have disregarded orders to intensify indoctrination of the rank and file, says a retired military officer.

Conservative leaders have tried to tighten their grip on the military since they coerced a reluctant and divided Army into crushing Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in June 1989. They have purged moderate officers and promoted obedient, hard-line Marxists.

Yet "the hold of the party on the military is uncertain and I doubt that Beijing has at all strengthened its hand on the gun since Tiananmen," says June Dreyer, an expert on the Chinese military at the University of Miami.

The intractable Army is unlikely to descend into open, factional conflict. The possibility of a military coup is also remote. But the Army is the most ominous wild card in the succession of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, military and political analysts say.

Rival party leaders will probably exploit the weak central control on the military and muster the support of some factions in the Army, the analysts say. For Mr. Deng's would-be successors, control over the military will be decisive but elusive.

The Army has been a cornerstone in the power base of every Communist leader since the party became a potent political force in the 1930s. Today, however, no Chinese can hope to match even Deng's shaky command over the armed forces, they say.

The party largely has itself to blame.

Party leaders require the military to act as its Praetorian Guard against popular opposition. Yet, they inadequately fund the Army, telling it to fend for itself.

Beijing also retards professionalism and the adoption of modern weaponry in the military by valuing socialist doctrine as more important than merit.

As a result, the "People's Army" intrudes on peoples' lives by leeching on public revenue and enforcing party rule. Unlike other armies it cannot only play the modern role as a protector against foreign aggressors.

In short, since launching economic reforms more than a decade ago the party has failed to guide the military to a popular, relevant, and wholly constructive role in China's less regimented society.

Resentment toward Beijing ran high in the military even before it was ordered to shoot the unarmed activists at Tiananmen Square.

Opportunities that emerged with market-oriented economic reforms during the 1980s have eluded most soldiers while enabling millions of Chinese citizens to become comparatively well off.

Spending on the military rose 25 percent last decade while commodity prices jumped 90 percent, according to Liberation Army News. The party has accelerated the growth in the military budget since the Tiananmen massacre, but not enough to compensate for inflation.

Soldiers have seen their prestige fall with their standard of living. Youths generally prefer to seek the unprecedented wealth and job opportunities from reform rather than meager pay in the poorly equipped Army.

Publicly scorned and short on cash, many Army units put their own interests before orders from Beijing. The party, strapped by a budget deficit, has unwittingly promoted the corrosion in the chain of command by telling the Army to look elsewhere for income.

Soldiers throughout China spend much of their time raising pigs and chickens, or growing grain, vegetables, and fruit. They produce half of the meat, eggs, and vegetables they consume, according to official reports.

"Most of the PLA [People's Liberation Army] cares more about growing cabbages than about training or putting down domestic unrest," a military analyst based in Beijing says on condition of anonymity.

Beijing since 1985 has encouraged hundreds of military factories to halt production of bullets, tanks, and missiles and turn out soda, fans, toys, and other consumer goods. Civilian products account for 65 percent of the income from military factories, according to official newspapers.

The new entrepreneurial spirit has encouraged officers to rank combat capability second to profit. Many have turned to corruption.

HE Army is the most corrupt institution in China," the retired PLA officer says. Malfeasance thrives because the Army is virtually free of external supervision and military discipline prevents officers from criticizing their superiors.

The gung-ho policy of moneymaking has also soured morale, military analysts say.

"It creates two separate militaries: One is the guys who are crawling in the mud underneath barbed wire, and the other is the guys making money in the factories," Dr. Dreyer says.

Military units whose businesses are closely linked to nearby civilian enterprises are more responsive to local officials than to national leaders, the analysts say.

Such units have reinforced the gradual breakdown of China into "warlord economies," regions where officials assumed key economic powers during reform and now resist central control.

Commanders have also marked out more autonomy from Beijing under the new military doctrine of "local war." Regional Army leaders have mustered self-contained forces in preparation for short conflicts in a limited area with limited objectives.

Moreover, a long-standing conflict over whether to stress professionalism or Marxist purity has divided the Army and alienated it from Beijing.

Rigid ideologues have prevailed over advocates of a streamlined, high-tech Army since the Tiananmen protests demonstrated the hazards of open minds.

Since the Tiananmen crackdown, Beijing has ordered many of China's 3.2 million soldiers to spend 30 percent of their time in ideological study, military analysts say.

The Army has also been fractured by the crude grab for power by a group known as the "Yang family clique." President Yang Shangkun and his stepbrother, Army Commissar Yang Baibing, have provoked broad resentment since 1989 by administering the reshuffling of top officers in a way that bolstered the Yangs' own influence.

The hard-liners have disciplined recalcitrant units by shaking up the command structure. At least five of the 14 commanders and commissars who took part in the Tiananmen massacre were rewarded in a reshuffle.

Beijing is trying to appease restive and comparatively poor military units by compelling local governments to grant them aid. It has ordered cities across China to launch a "double support" campaign with local soldiers.

The Army harvests grain, builds roads, diverts rivers, and performs other labors for civilians in return for food, schooling, housing, and other basic needs. Last year soldiers put in 10 million workdays for payment in kind, official reports say.

Finally, Beijing has sought to eliminate a chief cause of resentment among soldiers by trying to ensure that the paramilitary police, rather than the Army, puts down any future popular uprising.

The party leadership has moved at least one Army division into the People's Armed Police. It has also drastically raised the budget for equipping and training the force, the retired PLA officer says.

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